03 Aug What To Do When Your Child Is Afraid of the Dentist
In a perfect world, your child will sail through each and every dentist appointment without a cavity or a single fear. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case for every family. Whether from shyness or specific dental anxieties, your child might be afraid to go to the dentist. You might not know about your child’s fears until you’re in the waiting room or the dental hygienist reclines the chair for the first time.
To make the first or next visit to the dentist easier for your children and for you, here are a few things to know about preventing and alleviating their fears.
What Causes Kids to Be Afraid of the Dentist
Much like adults, kids may be afraid of the dentist for a variety of reasons. It will be unique to every child, but some anxieties are preventable.
- General anxiety or nervousness
- Painful experiences at the doctor or dentist in the past
- Fear of needles or the instruments at the dentist
- Fear of the unknown and not knowing what to expect
- Siblings who talk about not liking or wanting to go to the dentist
- Having a parent with dental fears or anxieties
In some cases, you may simply have a nervous or shy child who doesn’t like new experiences or people. If this is the case, help them cope with the new situations and new people including the dentist.
How to Prevent Dental Fears in Children
If you can prevent your children from being afraid of the dentist in the first place, you’ll make the entire experience better for everyone. What works for one child might not work for another, but consider these different methods to find what works.
Don’t talk about your own dental anxieties. Children pick up on their parents’ fears and will emulate them as much as anything else you do. They look to you for guidance on the world, and if you’re nervous or don’t want to go to the dentist, your children will likely agree.
Start their dental visits at a young age. Allowing children to grow up going to the dentist, as they would any other medical visit, normalizes the experience for them. Young children may be nervous or need extra attention at first but it can be helpful in the long run.
Read books about the dentist. Learning about how nice the dentist is and what to expect through storytelling will make the experience less foreign for your child.
Go to the dentist. The more your child can see you doing something, the more normal it will appear. If you have your own fears and anxieties, talk to your dentist about options available alleviate your fear. Not going may allow your child to think they shouldn’t go either.
Visit the dentist before the appointment. Give your child a chance to see the office, meet the local dentist, and get a sense of what to expect. Instead of the entire process being new, they’ll already have an idea of what to expect.
How to Alleviate Dental Anxieties and Fears
Much of what prevents dental anxieties in children will also alleviate some of their fears later, too. It’s possible you might not have known they were nervous until the moment the dentist walked in the room. Now that you know, here are a few tricks to help your child work through their fears and make good dental hygiene a life-long habit.
Bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal. If your child has a toy that provides them comfort, allow them to bring it to their visit and hold it during the appointment.
Hold their hand during the visit. A connection with you as their parent can often help children stay calm.
Hold your child in your lap. This may only be possible while they’re young and for normal cleanings but if it helps them calm down, it may be worth the effort. Eventually, they’ll learn there’s nothing to fear, but until then, the extra comfort may keep them calm.
Schedule the same hygienist for each visit. If possible, schedule with the same person each time so your children can get to know one person and develop a sense of trust.
Children who go to the dentist at an early age tend to have better health overall throughout their life. Prevention of dental anxiety and fear is the best course of action but some kids will be afraid no matter what you do. Take the time to work with your child so they learn to be less nervous. They’ll have much better dental hygiene and health as a result.